Appeal to Unamended, Abrahamic Faith
An appeal to Unamended and Abrahamic Faith brothers and
sisters regarding submission and ecclesial fellowship
A clause in many ecclesial Constitutions, modeled on the
original Christadelphian Ecclesial Guide, reads as follows:
"In matters not affecting essential doctrines, we mutually agree to submit to
the arrangements preferred by the
We may make the mistake of supposing that "majority rule" is
simply a convenient way of doing things, borrowed -- with no particular Bible
support -- from the democratic governments of England and America. So we might
assume that this rule is not especially binding, and in fact really means:
'We agree to submit to the arrangements preferred by the majority, unless we
believe them to be wrong.'
But it should be evident -- after some reflection -- that the
rule cannot be limited to such an interpretation: If everyone agreed to submit
to the will of the majority only when he or she thought it to be right... and if
everyone felt free, and were free, to strike out on his own whenever his
ecclesia made a decision not to his liking, then such a clause would have no
real application and thus would mean... nothing at all! This would then be the
perfect prescription for ecclesial disunity. Sadly, this has happened far too
often among Christadelphians. Brothers and sisters have stayed together in
ecclesias, thinking themselves to be in perfect harmony, until the first real
problem arose. Then they have divided from one another because one side or the
other had supposedly "departed from the Truth", even if only in a relatively
minor matter... basically because they did not see, or did not care about, the
wisdom summarized in this clause.
No, the proper way to interpret the clause is
'In matters not affecting essential doctrines, we mutually agree to submit to
the arrangements preferred by the majority, even if we believe the majority is
Even if our ecclesia makes what we consider to be a wrong
decision, our duty is to remain peaceably with the ecclesia, and honor its
decision... unless that decision affects the ecclesia's official position in
regard to one or more essential doctrines of the Truth.
It may be that our ecclesia has decided to embark upon an
expensive building project which we feel is imprudent. Or it may be that our
ecclesia has decided to take back into fellowship a sister whom we feel should
remain out of fellowship. In such cases, and other similar ones, our recognition
of the principle of "majority rule" compels us to abide by -- and even support
-- the ecclesial decision.
Why should we do this? Because "majority rule" is much more
than a convenient way of doing things; it is really the restatement of a Bible
principle -- which is just as binding as any other commandment!:
"All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: because God
opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1Pe 5:5).
These passages most directly "prove" that the rule is
Scriptural. There are other passages which, almost as directly, say the same
thing, and they are the passages which teach the unity of the Body of Christ (eg
Rom 12:4,5; 1Co 12:12-27; Eph 2:14-18; 4:4,12-16). All the passages, in Paul's
letters and elsewhere, that command us to "be of the same mind" or "one mind"
(Rom 12:16; 1Co 1:10; 2Co 13:11; Phi 2:2,3; 1Pe 3:8,9) also make essentially the
same point: that in matters of non-fundamental questions, we must for the sake
of peace and unity submit to the will or "mind" of others (ie, the will or
"mind" of the majority), even if (especially if!) we think they are wrong. Just
as our obedience to certain commands (to love, to be kind, and to "turn the
other cheek") is only truly tested when we are wronged -- so also our obedience
to other commands (to submit to one another, to be of one mind, and to unify the
Body) is only truly tested when we have a significant difference of opinion with
the majority of our brethren.
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph
We now must ask a question with very serious
If the above is good advice for individuals within the local
ecclesia, is it not also good advice for an ecclesia as a whole within the
collective body of many ecclesias?
Or, to put it another way, do we believe in a worldwide
"ecclesia", a single worldwide Body of believers of which we (as individuals and
as ecclesias) form a part? IF we do, then I think we have to acknowledge that
the passages cited above, and others besides, have some bearing upon the
fellowship policies of ecclesias:
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the
kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And
he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles
himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven' " (Mat
"Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants
to be first must be slave of all" (Mar 10:43,44).
These are not "easy" passages; in fact, they very much go
"against the grain". They are just the sort of passages of which we might well
think, 'Those certainly apply... to the other fellow!' But -- read in the right
light, and understanding how difficult this might be -- we have to ask: Do we
have a duty to "submit" to the desires of other ecclesias in regard to our
fellowship practices? Do we have a duty to "submit" -- even if we believe we are
more right than they, and even if we believe our general approach is more
Scriptural -- for the sake of peace and unity?
"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of
you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that
you may be perfectly united in mind and thought" (1Co 1:10).
"Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the
God of love and peace will be with you" (2Co 13:11).
"Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in
spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in
humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phi
I suppose there is one premise to which we all agree, without
question: The greater unity of the One Body is our ultimate desire:
"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all
have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each
member belongs to all the others" (Rom 12:4,5).
We assume, therefore, that the greater unity of the One
worldwide Body is an object fervently to be desired from a Scriptural
"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its
parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ... Now the body is not
made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a
hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be
part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not
belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole
body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?... The eye cannot say to
the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need
you!'... God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to
the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but
that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers,
every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (1Co
"There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when
you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all... so that the body of Christ may be
built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son
of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of
Christ... speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who
is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together
by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part
does its work" (Eph 4:4-6,12-16).
Now, following along these lines, a second premise must be
stated: The Central (or Amended) Christadelphian community comprises by far the
greatest number of true believers worldwide (approximately 95% of the total).
[Note: This whole appeal is intended only for Unamended and Abrahamic Faith
brethren who agree that the Central community contains true believers. I realize
some may not agree; for them, these points will hold no weight.] This
overwhelming majority is often lost sight of in North America -- where the
Central "fellowship" comprises perhaps only 60% of all generally-recognized
believers. But the other Central brothers and sisters in the rest of the world
are a serious factor in any unity discussions in North America, because North
American Central brethren interact with them in Bible schools, fraternal
gatherings, traveling abroad, visiting, personal correspondence, and all sorts
of "missionary" and "service" capacities. This interaction necessarily affects
the ability and desire of North American Central brethren to "go the extra mile"
in offering fellowship to non-Central believers, for fear of endangering or
disrupting the "fellowship" they already enjoy. To put it bluntly, consideration
of the "cost-benefit" ratio suggests that such broadening of fellowship is just
not worth the risk.
Given the two "premises" above, how can the spiritual goal of
a greater unity be achieved? And the answer must of necessity be: 'Only under
the umbrella of the Central fellowship, by some recognition of its generally
accepted statement of faith (the BASF) and by some agreement with its generally
followed fellowship practices.'
We therefore cannot reasonably expect reunion discussions to
be some sort of "negotiation" between two (or among three, if we include the
Abrahamic Faith, or CoGAF) more-or-less "equal" entities. It must be something
more of a "petition" on the part of the much smaller group (or groups) to "join"
Central. This may not seem "fair", but it is the practical reality of things.
And it is the only way for the isolated fragments to achieve the spiritually
desirable result of unity with the One Body.
To summarize the differences: The Central "fellowship"
practices fellowship on the basis of the BASF only, which is expected to be
applied consistently by each ecclesia. The Unamended "fellowship", on the other
hand, allows fellowship either on the BUSF, the BASF, or sometimes other
statements, and its ecclesias apply such statements much less consistently. It
is interesting to note, however, that the Central "fellowship" -- with its
"stricter" policy -- continues to grow, while the Unamended "fellowship" -- with
its "looser" policy -- continues to fragment, and more so especially since
reunion has become an important issue. Why is this so? Because Central has a
higher degree of collective recognition of the standard of fellowship. That is,
all know where they stand, and they feel secure in that knowledge (something
like children whose parents practice "tough love", and therefore they know
"where the lines are"). In short, the parts (individual ecclesias) honor the
whole (the BASF), and the whole (all ecclesias) treats each part (each single
ecclesia) with honor (look at the 1 Corinthians 12 passage again!). Therefore,
"If you're in, you're in!" This has been disparaged, sometimes, as the "card
carrying" or "club" mentality, but there is no denying the security this
affords, and that security may well have a lot to do with the relatively much
greater growth in Central.
On the other hand, the "looser" Unamended "fellowship" allows
each ecclesia -- to some extent -- to do what is right in its own eyes (cp Jdg
17:6; 21:25). There is little "security" in such an arrangement; certain
Unamended ecclesias are apt to "disfellowship" other Unamended ecclesias for
relatively minor differences, and it can be very difficult for the individual to
figure out where he or she stands. And for every ecclesia that "reaches out"
beyond the Unamended group (either to Central or CoGAF), there is another
Unamended ecclesia that cuts them off for doing so. Unamended "fellowship" is
very much a relative thing: it changes from place to place, and from day to day.
The result, for all the best intentions of some, is more fragmentation. And
individual ecclesias remain adrift from the main Body of believers, denying
themselves many of the benefits chiefly pertaining to that main Body.
It may be argued that the Unamended/CoGAF ("UC") policy of
fellowship (with its greater ecclesial independence, and fellowship recognition
on the basis of individual faith) is "better" -- that is, more "Bible-based" --
than the general Central policy (with its collective adherence to a single
standard, and fellowship recognition on the basis of ecclesial position). But --
even if this were so, and given the realities of general ecclesial practice, and
prevailing attitudes -- could the UC policy ever hope to achieve the greater
unity among all who share a common faith -- which, after all, is (or should be)
Aside from the relative "rightness" of each possible
fellowship policy, there may also be (what can best be called) "the test of
"By their fruits you will recognize them" (Mat 7:16; cp Mat
12:33; Luk 6:44).
By this "test" there is simply no comparison. In terms of:
...in all this, the worldwide Central fellowship passes the
"test of fruitfulness" hands down! It far outdistances the "minorities". (Does
this mean that Central brethren or Central ecclesias are in any sense more
righteous than their counterparts in Unamended or CoGAF? No, nothing of the
sort! But it does suggest that their "system" works better!)
- holding together a diverse array of brethren;
- edifying the whole Body
(through magazines, books, Bible schools, gatherings, and interecclesial
- providing welfare and other assistance to those members in need;
- proclaiming the gospel (locally, where ecclesias exist, and further
afield, by organized missionary efforts, now in many countries and expanding
Add to this the fact that the Central brethren, worldwide,
outnumber all the others -- in total -- by about twenty to one, with the
disparity increasing all the time. Given all the above, should the Unamended, or
the CoGAF, really expect the "twenty" to "join" the "one"? Should they even
expect that the "twenty" will go very far in "accommodating" the special "needs"
of the "one" -- if there is a risk of jeopardizing any of the benefits listed
Let us assume -- for the sake of argument -- that the UC
policy of fellowship is "more correct" in a theoretical sense, being based on
the faith of the individual rather than the standing of his ecclesia.
Nevertheless, as a practical matter the UC policy can only work to achieve
greater unity in the wider sphere if it is actually practiced (or at least
acknowledged and tolerated) by quite a number of other ecclesias. I have to say
now, after some years of experience with this practice, that it does not appear
to have (or to have gained) wide enough acceptance. Many Unamended ecclesias and
most CoGAF churches practice similar fellowship -- and even some Central
ecclesias do too, but not very many. (And where Central ecclesias do this, they
are subject to serious scrutiny and sometimes sanctions, and are more or less
"forced" into secretive practices -- which may give the appearance, at least, of
dishonesty, and which in any case is not a very healthy situation.)
So, accepting the premise that the greater unity of the wider
Body of Christ is an object to be desired, then we have come back to our
original idea: there is a place, and a rationale, for humility, and submission
by "minorities" to the wishes of the "majority"-- not just by individuals to a
single ecclesia, but also by whole ecclesias to the greater worldwide
We must conclude, then, that in order to achieve true unity
with the worldwide Body of believers, an ecclesia should acknowledge the
validity of the BASF as an acceptable basis of saving Truth, and undertake to
limit its fellowship to others who do the same.
This, I suggest, is the practical way -- now -- to do our part
toward making peace in the brotherhood:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Mat
Finally, please consider Paul's teaching about "meat offered
to idols", and its general application to situations where the "strong" should
take into account the consciences of the "weak" (Rom 14 and 1Co 8). (But be
aware of the apparent contradiction here: The "stronger" fellowship position may
be considered an indication of brethren with "weaker" consciences, who feel
comfortable only by insisting on some restrictions that others think
unnecessary; whereas the "looser" or "weaker" fellowship position may indicate
those of "stronger" faith, who are not troubled by such concerns.) To paraphrase
Paul, it is possible that the "exercise of your freedom", in an otherwise
justifiable fellowship practice, may "become a stumblingblock to the weak" (1Co
8:9). True, it may be permissible to try to instruct the "weak" as to the
legality of the "stronger" position, and this has been done over the past decade
or two. But... there may come a time when Paul's words apply to us:
"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,
considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (Jam
"If your brother is distressed because of what you eat [or 'with whom you
eat'?!], you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your
brother for whom Christ died" (Rom
There is, of course, the counterargument: 'But we are not
talking about mere food here; we are talking about other brethren, with whom we
may not be able to break bread if we join Central!' (And that is an important
consideration: we should be concerned about how we treat all our brethren!) The
proper response, I think, is this:
'Those other non-Central brethren also have their own
obligation to consider the mind of the majority, and to achieve a greater
worldwide unity by joining Central themselves, just as we have (or will). If we
maintain any fellowship "accommodation" with them which falls short of unity in
the Central group, then we are implying that they need do nothing else
themselves, even while they remain separate from the main body. This is
"enabling" their continued disunity and isolation, and ultimately doing them a
disservice under the guise of friendly "fellowship".'
And, just maybe, there is the opportunity -- for those who
must "give up" something -- to learn true humility, to esteem others better than
ourselves, to serve them rather than perhaps proudly insisting on our own
"better" way. But perhaps that is what we all need, to build ourselves up by the
exercise of sacrificial love. It is just possible, in all of this, that God is
offering the "stronger ones" a very great blessing: the opportunity, through a
loving submission, and a sacrifice of our own wills, to learn more about